News from the Empire
And to tell the world who you were, I must first tell you. Abdallah-el-Zaquir wept like a woman when he lost Granada. Abd al-Qadir wept when he couldn’t fight like a man after he was defeated at the Battle of Algiers. Hernán Cortés wept under the Tree of the Night of Sorrow when he thought he would never conquer the great city of Tenochtitlán. But you did not weep, Maximilian, when you lost all of Mexico along with Querétaro. You were Maximilian, the Unshakable. You were also Maximilian, the Honorable. My grandfather fled the Tuileries hiding behind dark glasses, his sideburns shaved off, but you kept your blond beard. Napoleon the Great fled France toward the Island of Elba, first dressed as a cab driver, later as an Austrian officer, and then a Russian commissar. You never donned the red uniform of the Chinaco army. Napoleon’s nephew, Little Napoleon, fled Fort Ham disguised as a stonemason. You didn’t pass yourself off as a muleteer. Don Carlos, the aspirant to the throne of Spain, fled to England, after dyeing his hair. You never dyed your hair, Maximilian. Instead, you stayed in Querétaro. Maximilian—you weren’t another Pedro the Cruel of Aragón. There were no Sicilian Vespers in Mexico. You were Maximilian the Just. Remember García Cano? You were not another Richard III, nor a Peter I of Russia. You never took—would have never taken—his life from someone in whose veins your own blood flowed, as Richard of Gloucester did with his nephews, as Peter I did when he assassinated his son, Alexis. You were Maximilian the Merciful. Remember García Cano, the Mexican accused of conspiring to take your life? No, you were not another Ferdinand II of Austria, under whose reign Tilly’s troops caused such a massacre at Magdeburg that it could only be compared to the crusade against the Albigensians. Neither were you an Ivan the Terrible: unlike what happened at Novgorod, no one was butchered or roasted alive in the streets of Mexico. You were Maximilian the Good-hearted. Do you remember García Cano being executed after you refused him a pardon? Do you remember his wife groveling at your feet in Chapultepec Castle, and you refusing to listen and having her expelled? Did you think of her, tell me, when you stood before the firing squad at Las Campanas Hill? Did you think of Princess Salm-Salm who begged Juárez to spare you? Do you remember, Maximilian, running into García Cano’s wife on Empress Avenue and ordering that your carriage turn away from her? Do you remember her running after it screaming for mercy? And did you remember García Cano’s wife when you heard the moaning and sobbing of Mejía’s wife as she ran after the carriage that was taking him to Las Campanas? No, because no matter how many times you try to douse yourself in purity, you must know that you were also Maximilian the Deaf, Maximilian the Merciless. Just as Napoleon the Great refused Josephine a pardon for the Duke of Enghien, as Louis Napoleon refused Eugénie her request to spare Orsini—Enghien was later executed and Orsini died at the guillotine—and as your brother Franz Joseph refused a pardon for the rebellious Count Louis Batthyány, despite his wife’s begging on her knees (in fact, he slashed his wrists the eve of his execution), as they all did, you were incapable of pardoning those who made attempts on your life or your empire. You were Maximilian the Inflexible, Maximilian the Resentful. And because you didn’t pardon García Cano, the Mexicans will never forgive you. You were also Maximilian the Fool, because you wrote Marshal Bazaine on pink stationery to congratulate him on his wedding. And Maximilian the Incredulous, because you ignored Détroyat when he warned you that everyone would forsake you. You were Maximilian the Oblivious, Maximilian the Orphan, Maximilian the Blind. You wrote Napoleon that there were only three types of men in Mexico: stubborn old men, ignorant youths, and mediocre foreigners and adventurers with no future in Europe. You could never see that you were all three rolled into one. You were also Maximilian the False, because, in San Martín Texmelucan, you cried on my shoulder at my father Leopold’s death after I returned from Yucatán, and you were furious at Archbishop Labastida when he refused to conduct a funeral service for his soul, arguing that Leopold had been a Lutheran. This, Maximilian, after you had maintained a vendetta against my beloved father, and had sworn to a love that you never felt for me, always talking about us behind our backs. You had accused my father of an “invincible rapaciousness,” and you called him a greedy miser and said that you were glad to have deprived him of a very small part of what he held most dear in the world. What you neglected to see was that I was his sweet Marie Charlotte, his little brown-eyed princess, the one he had told everyone was his most beloved being on earth. In a letter to my aunt Countess Nemours, he had called me the flower of his heart. He had said it to me and predicted that I would be one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe. He had hoped to make me happy by telling me this, swearing that he loved me more than anything else in the world, more than my trousseau, the jewelry, the silver, and the 100,000 florins of my dowry that you took from my father, or the 308,000 francs that Count Zichy deposited in Vienna to secure our marriage. Maximilian, you lied as well when you told Franz Joseph that you would have to make an enormous, inconceivable sacrifice to renounce all your rights to the House of Austria, since you had given your word to nine million souls who had turned their eyes toward you. You lied because what mattered to you most at the time wasn’t those people who had never summoned you, who didn’t even know you existed. The only thing you wanted was for your empire not to be stillborn. You hoped not to lose the crown before it was placed on your fair head. You lied in the same way when you wrote to your mother, Archduchess Sophia, from Milan that, were it not for your religious principles, you would have abandoned the government of the Lombardy and Veneto Provinces. More than God, the Church, and religion, what mattered to you was holding on by your fingernails to the miserable scrap of the Austrian Empire that your brother gave us, like a bone thrown to some dog. For that, God, the Church, and your subjects from the Lombardy-Veneto will never forgive you—just as the Italians and the Hungarians will never forgive that prince in Naples who had been so moved by the scarlet-clad prisoners, laden with heavy chains, who were repairing the fortress walls; the prince who, in Gibraltar, had felt such compassion for the prisoners that the English had forced to pick up enormous iron balls, walk with them, and then place them on the ground, only to lift them up again and put them back where they were; the man who had kept his mouth shut when General Haynau had the Hungarian rebels asphyxiated in ’49, and when the Austrian soldiers massacred the martyrs of Belfiore. The Prince was—you were, Maximilian—more interested in sending corsages to countesses and prancing around on Lipizzaner horses at the Vienna Spanish Riding School than in the hunger of those ruled by the Habsburgs to be free. You were many other things as well, and I must tell the world, and you, what they were. In your Teresitas Convent cell you read Cesar Cantú’s History of the Italians and Heine’s ballads. You were Maximilian the Enlightened. Maximilian the Understanding, who forgave Father Fischer the many bastard children he had scattered around the world. And because you planned to send Prince Salm-Salm to the United States with a million dollars to buy the support of that nation, Maximilian, you were Maximilian the Dreamer. You were Maximilian the Proud when you refused Colonel López’s offer to hide you in Señor Rubio’s house. Maximilian the Hypocrite, because you asked Salm-Salm to kill you if you were captured, but you knew that the Prince would never dare execute the order. Maximilian the Philosopher who, a few years before, had written in his aphorisms that he who does not fear death has made great progress in the art of living. Maximilian the Artist, the expert in the art of living, who on June 16, 1867, exclaimed that dying was easier than you thought. Maximilian the Heroic who, during a siege, during the most intense attacks, scanned the horizon through a sailor’s telescope from the trenches, as if you were on a ship’s forecastle. Maximilian the Ingenuous, the prisoner who amused himself smuggling messages to Salm-Salm in bread chunks, and who received secret messages in cigarettes from the military chaplain, Aguirre. Again you were Maximilian the Deceitful, because you wrote the Prefect of Miramare that you had “only Mexicans” among those closest to you, when you were ignoring Salm-Salm, Basch, the head horseman Malburg, the officers Swoboda and Fürstenwärther, Major Pitner, Captain Curié, Major Görwitz, Artillery Lieutenant Hans, Count Patcha, General Morett, Tüdös, Grill, Schaffer, Günner, Khevenhüller, Hammerstein, and Wickenburg. You were also Maximilian the Sportsman, because you bowled and played billiards at the Querétaro Casino. Maximilian the Lucky, to whom the ladies of Querétaro, you claimed, had surrendered more undergarments than you had ever owned yourself or indeed seen in your entire life. Of course these were none other than the wives of your own soldiers. Maximilian the Generous, because you filled beggars’ hands with little silver and copper coins as they crowded around you outside the casino. You were Maximilian the Romantic, because you arrived in Querétaro and installed a secret office in a cave at the foot of Las Campanas Hill from where a pair of frightened lovers had emerged. You were Maximilian the Patient, because you indulged your officers by playing dominoes, although the game bored you to tears. Again, you were Maximilian the Magnanimous, because you tore up a list of names of those of your officers who were planning to desert or to betray you during the siege. You were Maximilian the Grateful, because you awarded Agnes Salm-Salm the Medal of the Order of Saint Charles, although you were unable to give it to her as you didn’t actually have the award with you in Querétaro. However, you described it to the equestrian princess in detail: a small, white lacquered cross, green on the inside, with the legend Humilitas on the front and a San Carlos on the back, hanging from a red ribbon. Finally, you were Maximilian the Cultured, because you could describe in detail the lovely baptismal font at the Temple of Santa Rosa to General Castillo, and could lecture Blasio on the Medusa-headed gargoyles at the Casa de los Perros, and expound to General Méndes—Maximilian the Rememberer—that you could with your eyes closed describe Querétaro and all its surroundings: San Gregorio and San Pablo to the north; to the south the Cuesta China and the ravine; in the hinterlands, the Cimatario; to the west, Las Campanas Hill. Tell me, Maximilian, how is it possible that the Mexicans have forgotten who you were? How is it possible that they’ve failed to see how noble and generous you were? When did that country of savages ever have another ruler like you, so concerned about the arts and letters, about the glory of its heroes? When did anyone else ever love those poor Indians, forgotten even by Juárez, more than you did? When did those people ever have an emperor with eyes as blue as the sky who suffered hunger, fever, dysentery, who was ready to shed his blood, to give his life, as you did, for them, for their freedom, their sovereignty, for the greatness of that land that you made your own? When did the Mexicans ever dream that they would have a queen with the blood of Saint Louis, King of France, the most important Catholic monarch in history, leader of two crusades against the infidel, flowing through her veins? A queen with the blood of the French, Spanish, and Italian Bourbons, the same blood that flowed through the veins of Louis XIII and Henri IV of France; of Philippe Égalité, founder of a monarchy based on the will of the people; of the Duke of Orléans, the Enlightened, murdered by John the Fearless; of the poet Charles of Orléans, imprisoned by the English after the Battle of Agincourt? Tell me, when did they ever suppose that in the veins of their Empress, with skin as white as a lotus, kneeling on the ground to lay the foundations for their schools, ran the blood of Isabel Farnese and the Sun King, of Eleanor of Aquitaine, of Maria Theresa of Austria, and of Blanca of Castile? Their Empress. When, tell me, did the Mexicans realize that when I married you I had an immense fortune of more than two million eight hundred thousand francs in Belgian, U.S., English, Prussian, French, and Russian bonds? And that I took to Miramare from Brussels twenty-three necklaces, one of which was worth more than two hundred thousand francs; thirty-four bracelets, one of which bore my father’s portrait surrounded by diamonds— my father, Leopold, the wise King of Belgium, whom Napoleon the Great described from St. Helena Island as the most handsome officer ever to set foot in the Tuileries; I also took fifty-one brooches, eleven rings, three hundred and sixty blouses, seventy-two nightcaps, seventy-seven dressing gowns, eighty-one shawls, four hundred and eighty pairs of gloves, two hundred and fifteen handkerchiefs, two hundred and eighty-eight pairs of stockings, and one hundred pairs of shoes, along with a pair from when I was five years old. All of that I left in Mexico, along with the rubies from Burma and the large brooch your brother gave me that I never saw again. When had those Indians ever seen a golden imperial carriage pass through those roads bordered with cacti and agave? When did Titian or Velázquez ever paint one of their presidents? When did those starving bandits ever have a leader like the French Marshal in his white-plumed bicorne? When, tell me, did those miserable wretches ever see a Hussar halving coconuts with the same saber he had used to behead a Turk? When did they even imagine the grandeur, the splendor of a European empire? When did they have a court chamberlain, a Kapellmeister, one hundred of the Empress’s dragoons? When did they ever see a lackey in a royal purple velvet frockcoat buying phalaropes at the Santa Anita market? Tell me, when did they imagine that the Prince who cleaned up the Venetian lagoons of Lombardy-Veneto, who drained the swamps to arrest the spread of malaria, who broadened the avenues in Milan, who built a new square between La Scala and the Marine Palace, who restored the Ambrosian Library, who irrigated the Frioul plains with the waters of the Ledra, tell me, when did they dream that the same prince, Maximilian the Wise, Maximilian the Liberal, Maximilian the Maecenas, Maximilian the Heir to the Holy Roman Empire, Maximilian the descendant of the greatest, most important dynasty in history—the Naples Bourbons and the Hohenstaufens each had four monarchs, the Bonapartes five, the Tudors six, the French Bourbons seven, the Hohenzollerns nine, the Stuarts and the Spanish Bourbons ten, the Hanover-Windsors eleven, the Savoys twelve, the Valois thirteen, the Plantagenets fourteen, the Braganzas and the Capets fifteen, and the Romanovs eighteen; the House of Austria, the Habsburgs, your house, Maximilian, the only one that gave the world twenty-six monarchs, twenty-two of them emperors and four kings of the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs, besides four European queens—when did they realize, those Mexicans that one of those emperors was the very same one they had before them, a blond-bearded Emperor who lay in a hammock in the burning shade of the flowering flamboyants, who drank sherry all afternoon, and Rhine wine from Bohemian crystal goblets; Maximilian the Sybarite, the one who dined on Limoges china, Maximilian the Elegant, strolling, arm in arm with Commodore Maury under the chandeliers brought from Austria and gazing at the tapestries with illustrations from La Fontaine’s fables in the conservatory of Chapultepec Castle; Maximilian the Thinker, who meditated in a Louis Quinze chair, next to the stained glass figures of Ceres and Pomona, Flora and Diana, which you had made to bathe the castle hallways in the light of Greek mythology. When, tell me, did they realize that one of those Habsburg emperors was the same man who knocked on bakery doors at night in Mexico City—Maximilian the Incognito, the one who rode across the Jamapa River, with water up to his waist—Maximilian the Daring—and atop the Pyramid of the Sun decided to become a new Justinian, the new Solon of America—Maximilian the Ambitious? Oh, Maximilian, sometimes I think that I shall never forgive the Mexicans.
You were also Maximilian the Failure, because you dreamed about being a new Maximilian I of Habsburg, another Joseph II of Austria. But Joseph II abolished slavery and colonized Galicia—you tried to restore it in Mexico, and couldn’t even annex the Belize territory to your Empire. Maximilian I reclaimed the Hungarian territories for the House of Austria, along with the silver from the Tyrolean mines. But what did you do, tell me, with the Mexican silver, but fill the pockets and the bellies of the French military, fill their rifles with gunpowder, their cannons with fodder? You were, therefore, a traitor to your new Motherland. And for that reason Mexico will never forgive you. For that reason, Mexico will always despise you. You are, you were, Maximilian the Despised, the Forgotten. Archduke Karl and Prince Eugene of Savoy were immortalized on their equestrian bronze statues, at the Hofburg’s Heroes’ Square. But you’re not there, Maximilian. Archduke Karl defeated Napoleon at Aspern, and Eugene of Savoy annihilated Mustapha II’s Turkish troops at Zenta. But you didn’t win the Battle of Mexico and for that, Maximilian, your own people, the Austrians, will never forgive you.